October 2009

William F. Deeck

HUGH AUSTIN – The Milkmaid’s Millions. Charles Scribner’s Sons, hardcover, 1948.

   This is the second and apparently last in the “Sultan’s Harem” mysteries. The Sultan is Wm (that’s the way he spells it) Sultan, the only surviving member of Sultan, Sultan & Sultan, counselors at law.

   Wm is thirty-five years old, but talks and thinks as if he were in his seventies. His staff, all female and thus “the harem,” treats him as if he were their grandfather, though his secretary appears to regard him as a possible swain.

   Wm’s main interest in life is compiling his late uncle’s “Life & Letters.” His staff is typing up the forty-second chapter of the second volume, which seems to comprise the twenty-seven thank-you letters the uncle sent for presents received on his fourteenth birthday.

   One shudders to think what the other forty-one chapters in volume two might consist of, and volume one doesn’t bear thinking about at all.

   One of Wm’s few clients has prepared a codicil to his will, having recently discovered a direct descendant, and Wm is called upon to prove the bona fides of the new family member. Shortly after Wm arrives at the client’s home, however, the testator is murdered.

   The investigators think that Wm did it, evidence arises that Wm probably didn’t do it, and then new developments seem to demonstrate that he did indeed do it.

   Wm’s harem, who were responsible for his getting involved in the mess, arrives on the scene to vamp some of the suspects and rig some evidence so that Wm will not be convicted of the crime. Those who enjoy the pedantic and stuffy, mixed with the preposterous, will find this novel delightful. The crime’s rather good, too.

– From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 9, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1987.

   Bibliographic Data. [Taken from the Revised Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin.] —

         AUSTIN, HUGH. Pseudonym of Hugh Austin Evans.

    It Couldn’t Be Murder (n.) Doubleday 1935 [Peter Quint]
    Murder in Triplicate (n.) Doubleday 1935 [Peter Quint]
    Murder of a Matriarch (n.) Doubleday 1936 [Peter Quint]
    The Upside Down Murders (n.) Doubleday 1937 [Peter Quint]
    The Cock’s Tail Murder (n.) Doubleday 1938 [Peter Quint]

HUGH AUSTIN The Cock's Tail Murder

    Lilies for Madame (n.) Doubleday 1938.
    Drink the Green Water (n.) Scribner 1948 [Wm Sultan (Sultan’s Harem)]
    The Milkmaid’s Millions (n.) Scribner 1948 [Wm Sultan (Sultan’s Harem)]
    Death Has Seven Faces (n.) Scribner 1949.

   Peter Quint was a lieutenant in the New York City police department. The small cover image of The Cock’s Tail Murder seen above (by Artzybasheff) is the only one of Austin’s books that I’ve been able to come up with so far in jacket. No other information about the author, other than his real name, seems to be known.

[UPDATE] Later the same day.   British bookseller Jamie Sturgeon has just supplied me with another cover, this one for The Upside Down Murders. It came from a Grosset reprint, but both he and I believe it to be the same as the Crime Club edition. Art by Duggaru:

HUGH AUSTIN The Cock's Tail Murder

[UPDATE #2] 10-26-09.   Thanks to the combined efforts of Victor Berch, Jamie Sturgeon and Al Hubin — and Google! — it has been learned that Hugh Austin Evans was born in 1903 and died in 1964.


DAY OF WRATH. 2006. Christopher Lambert, Brian Blessed, Blanca Marsillach, Szonja Oroszlán, James Faulkner, Phillida Law. Written and directed by Adrian Rudomin.

    “There are some mysteries that should not be uncovered… Stop searching … The Devil may appear in your past.”


    This has nothing to do with the classic Carl Theodor Dreyer film Der Vredens Tag (1943), but instead is a Hungarian production that’s set in Spain of 1542, fifty years into the Inquisition and its terrors.

   Taking place in a world of opulence and degradation and the excesses of religious zealotry, the film is supposedly based on a true story.

    Lambert plays Ruy de Mendoza, a minor noble, and the newly appointed sheriff of a Spanish province, who finds his life and that of his family at risk when he refuses to ignore a murder on his watch.

    Despite efforts by everyone, including the governor, Lord Francisco del Ruiz (Brian Blessed) to the head of the Inquisition Friar Anselmo (James Faulkner) to keep a conspiracy of silence, Mendoza pushes forward in his investigation.


    In the world of Spain during the Inquisition, birthright was everything, and the slightest taint of Jewish blood was a ticket to financial ruin, torture, and a heretic’s death by fire.

    As Mendoza delves into the mystery, he begins to uncover secrets he should not know and a conspiracy among the leader of the local Inquisition to extort money from noble families with the Jewish taint — including the newly appointed and vainglorious governor, but the truth is darker and more complex than mere religious persecution and zeal.

    A series of murders with the letters D R (for the Latin Day of Wrath) carved into the victims is related to these secrets, and massive keys left on the bodies are part of the answer.

    Finally Mendoza has to put his duty and his family against his blood and his honor in order to survive.


    This is an attractive film, and the story is fascinating, but the script is disjointed and despite some interesting touches (at one point Lambert uses an early form of ballistics to identify a bullet used in a murder), it doesn’t hold together.

    Day of Wrath is a decent time passer, a B movie at heart, with a few “A” touches in costuming and set decoration.

    There is a bit of nice swordplay, a hint of sex, and a masked killer in black and silver, but a better script and direction would have been more helpful in dealing with a conspiracy this complex and with problems this dark.

    The movie ends in a blood bath and a new conspiracy with Lambert’s Mendoza at its head, as it only could, but you have to wish a surer hand had been at the helm. Even with its flaws, there is a good idea here. It just lacks the skilled input needed to develop it fully.

    And I couldn’t help but think while watching it, it might have made a better novel than movie. A little structure would have been a major improvement.

DAY OF WRATH 2006    

SIN TAKES A HOLIDAY. Pathé Exchange, 1930. Constance Bennett, Kenneth MacKenna, Basil Rathbone, Rita La Roy, Zasu Pitts. Director: Paul L. Stein.


   Besides the two “Topper” movies she was in, I don’t think I’ve seen any of the other movies that Constance Bennett made. For a name that’s awfully familiar, not to mention being a beautiful and talented sad-eyed actress, she made a rather large number of awfully forgettable pictures.

   Including this one, I’m sorry to say, one that TCM chose to play on her birthday earlier this week (October 22). She plays the secretary who’s secretly in love with her playboy boss (played by Kenneth MacKenna), a well-known divorce lawyer. But when he proposes to her, it’s with no sense of delight that she accepts.

   It’s a marriage of convenience only. He needs a wife to get one of his many divorcee clients (Rita La Roy) off his back. Little does he know when he sends his new bride off to Europe that she’s going to turn into a glowing beauty. (She also somehow learns to play classical musical pieces on the piano; quite a change from living in a cramped apartment with two other working girls, one of whom is Zasu Pitts.)

   Basil Rathbone plays the jaded bachelor who falls in love with her, and this is the triangle (or quadrilateral, if Miss La Roy is included) that the plot revolves around, and all the more so once the lady’s husband decides that maybe he really does want a wife.


   Being a pre-Code movie, the light-hearted way that men in upper society are allowed to pal around with women who are not their wives would scarcely meet with approval a few years later.

   Unfortunately for those of us who happen to have spent the first 60 plus minutes waiting for a payoff that matches the rest of the film, the wait will have been in vain. There are many many clever ways that this movie could have ended. The way that this movie does end – and don’t worry, I shan’t tell you which one it is — it isn’t one of them.

LAND BEYOND THE LAW. Warner Brothers, 1937. Dick Foran, Linda Perry, Wayne Morris, Harry Woods, Irene Franklin, Frank Orth, Cy Kendall. Director: B. Reeves Eason.


   Walker Martin sent me an email yesterday morning, suggesting that I give you all a heads up on TCM’s lineup of B-Western movies they were going to show all afternoon, all oaters with “Law” in their titles.

   Of course I didn’t see his email until just before the first movie started, but I did get it in time to make sure my tape machine was properly set up and the cable box was set to the right channel. This is the first of the four.

   Plot synopsis: Cowpoke “Chip” Douglas (Dick Foran) is persuaded to become sheriff when his father is killed by rustlers. Complicating matters before his father’s death was the fact that Douglas was riding for the man (Cy Kendall) who’s secretly responsible for all of the gunplay and violence in the area. (Not that it’s much of a secret.)

   Dick Foran is billed as “The Singing Cowboy,” and indeed the chunky, jovial-looking actor has a voice like Nelson Eddy. No wimpy Roy or Gene is he. The opening scene, with the ranch hands riding into town singing like a grand chorus a song that might have been written by Sigmund Romberg, is a sight to be seen, and something even more spectacular to hear.

   This movie is pure horse operetta, through and through. And as thoroughly enjoyable, too, with plenty of plot, lots of action, and a spanking scene to boot!”



MY SISTER EILEEN. Columbia, 1955. Betty Garrett, Janet Leigh, Jack Lemmon, Robert Fosse, Kurt Kasznar, Dick York, Lucy Marlow, Tommy Rall, Horace MacMahon, Hal March, Queenie Smith, Richard Deacon.

Screenplay by Blake Edwards and Richard Quine from the play by Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov, based on the stories by Ruth McKenny. Songs: Jule Styne and Leo Robin; choreography: Robert Fosse. Director: Richard Quine. Shown at Cinecon 40, Hollywood CA, September 2004.

   The inevitable question was asked of Betty Garrett after the screening: Why wasn’t the great Leonard Bernstein score for the Broadway success Wonderful Town used? The answer was that it was economics, that it was cheaper to commission a new score than pay for the use of Bernstein’s.

   Undoubtedly a minus, since the replacement score is undistinguished, but the gorgeous wide-screen technicolor, the charming performances by the cast (especially Garrett, Leigh, Lemmon, Fosse and Rall), and the solid merits ofthe McKenny stories contributed to a smashingly entertaining 72 minutes, with a number by Rall and Fosse, danced in an alley, that lit up the screen with some of the most exciting dancing that side of West Side Story.

   Garrett said that she most missed not being able to sing “Ohio” from the Bernstein original, but she played in the Bernstein musical on Broadway and on the road and didn’t lack for opportunities to sing it.

   I’m still a bit put off by the gradual encroachment of post-1940 films at these conventions, but the opportunity to hear Garrett talk about her career and to see such a splendid example of the fifties film musical pretty much put those concerns to rest.


A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini:

EDWARD S. AARONS – Assignment-Angelina.

Gold Medal #749, paperback original; 1st printing, March 1958.


   Like many writers from the period 1920-50, Edward S. Aarons began his career in the pulp magazines. He also wrote three mystery novels in the late Thirties, and several more in the late Forties. But it wasn’t until the paperback original boom of the early 1950s that he achieved major success and recognition, with his “Assignment” series of espionage novels featuring the action-packed adventures of CIA agent Sam Durrell.

   Along with exotic locales across the globe, violence is the main ingredient of the Durrell series; a great deal of blood is spilled in a great many different ways, both by Durrell and the various villains he encounters. Assignment-Angelina is typical.

   It begins (rather irresistibly) with the coldblooded murders of four men in four different sections of the country: a filling-station owner in, Arizona, a building contractor in Indiana, an advertising copywriter in New York, and a fisherman in Louisiana.


   We know from the first who is responsible — a trio named Mark, Corbin, and Slago — but we don’t know why. Durrell’s search for the answer leads him to a beautiful woman named Angelina, who may or may not be an ally, and into the usual muddle of James Bondian political intrigue.

   It also leads him from Washington to the bayous of Louisiana (where Durrell is right at home; he is part Cajun) to New York City and ultimately to a mountaintop in the rugged Poconos where the slam-bang finale takes place.

   Despite all the violence and melodrama, this and other Durrell novels are compulsive reading. Aarons, was an accomplished writer, with excellent descriptive abilities (particularly in depicting the various locales of his stories) and an expert sense of narrative pacing.


   A total of forty Sam Durrell books were produced by Aarons from 1955 to 1975, among the more noteworthy of which are Assignment to Disaster (1955), Assignment Stella Marni (1957), Assignment-School for Spies (1966), and Assignment-Sumatra (1974).

   After his death in 1975, a number of additional Durrell novels appeared by Will B. Aarons, said to be his son. Two of Aarons’s non-series books, Escape to Love (1952) and Girl on the Run (1954), are good examples of the paperback-original suspense novels of the early 1950s. A 1948 hardcover, Nightmare, is notable for its high level of tension and drama.

   Aarons also published numerous novels under the pseudonym of Edward Ronns, among them Terror in the Town (1947) Gift of Death (1948), and Catspaw Ordeal (1950); most these were later reprinted in paperback under his own name.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

Editorial Comment: On the primary Mystery*File website there is a long comprehensive overview of the “Assignment” series by Doug Bassett. Following the article is a long list of all the books in the series, plus a full description of the investigation that took place several years ago which finally discovered the true identity of Will B. Aarons. (Follow the link provided.)

   Two other books in the Sam Durrell series previously been reviewed on this blog are:

       Assignment Stella Marni.

       Assignment Zoraya


SUSAN KANDEL – Christietown. Harper, trade pb, May 2007. Avon, pb, June 2008.


   As in the three previous books in this series, the city of Los Angeles and the life and work of a mystery writer are nicely integrated into the plot. Cece Caruso is writing a book about Agatha Christie this time around, and she’s supplementing her income with events for a housing development called Christietown. And then, murder happens.

   As the plot unfolds, the Christie connection lessens while parallels and references to the movie Chinatown become more significant, lending more of an edge to the proceedings.

SUSAN KANDEL Dial H for Hitchcock

   As much as I am an all-too-willing suspender of disbelief, it is terrifically implausible that anyone anywhere, let alone in southern California, would create a housing development with an Agatha Christie theme. And Cece’s personal life is very, very messy. (How does she have time to get anything accomplished?)

   Conclusion: readable but gimmicky.

Editorial Comment / Bibliographic Data: Walter Albert reviewed the same book here about a year ago, and at the end I provided a list of all the books in the series. The good news is that due out on October 27th is the next book in the series, Dial H for Hitchcock (originally to be titled Vertigo a Go Go).

LAURENCE GOUGH – Serious Crimes.

Viking Press, US/Canada; hardcover, 1990. Paperback reprint: Penguin, Canada, 1991. British editions: Gollancz, hc, 1990; pb, 1992 (shown).

   As far as police procedurals go, if they’re published in Canada by a Canadian author, not to mention ones that take place in Vancouver, BC, they might as well have never been written at all, as far as American readers are concerned. Generally speaking, of course.


   Which is not to say that none of Laurence Gough’s thirteen books in his “Willows and Parker” series have not been published in the US, but most of them haven’t, or if they have, it was barely.

   Take the test for yourself (assuming you live in the US). Take a look at the thirteen books below, for some of which the covers have been provided, and see how many of them you recognize. An easier test: Raise your right hand if you’ve heard of Laurence Gough. I hope you have, but I have a feeling that he’s all but unknown in this country.

   There is a little bit of soap opera going on along with the cases that Jack Willows and his partner Claire Parker are assigned to. Just how much, I couldn’t tell you, as this is the first one of them I’ve happened to read. But in the opening few chapters of Serious Crimes, Willows’ wife has left him, along with their two kids, and he’s getting ready to sell his house.

   There is something going on, I think, between him and Parker, but if it is, it’s awfully subtle and/or it simply doesn’t come up this time. A little investigation on my part has revealed, however, that things heat up in the books that follow. Parker, by the way, is all but completely invisible in this book. She’s always around whenever Willows is; other cops look at her when she’s with Willows with ogling eyes, and that’s about it. Tune in for more next time, or so it appears.

   Dead is a local Chinese businessman, found frozen in a pond covered with several layers of ice. A botched kidnaping? It looks like it. Interspersed with the two cops’ investigation are the adventures of two young hoodlums, one of whom falls in lust with one of his victims, a bored housewife who seems (unknown to him) to have similar feelings about her attacker.

   There’s not much in the way of detection involved, which is par for the course as far as work of most homicide cops is concerned. But the tale the author weaves is as gripping as it is understated, as paradoxical as that may sound. The case (or cases) are never boring, and more, at least one of them ends in a blazing hell-raiser of a finale.

      The Willows and Parker series —

    1. The Goldfish Bowl (1987)


    2. Death on a No. 8 Hook (1988)
    3. Hot Shots (1989)
    4. Serious Crimes (1990)
    5. Accidental Deaths (1991)


    6. Fall Down Easy (1992)
    7. Killers (1993)
    8. Heartbreaker (1995)


    9. Memory Lane (1996)
   10. Karaoke Rap (1997)


   11. Shutterbug (1998)
   12. Funny Money (2000)
   13. Cloud of Suspects (2003)


THE CAPTIVE. Lasky-Paramount, 1915. Blanche Sweet, House Peters, Page Peters, Jeanie Macpherson, Theodore Roberts, Billy Elmer, Marjorie Daw. Original story by Cecil B. DeMille and Jeanie Macpherson; director: Cecil B. DeMille. Shown at Cinecon 40, Hollywood CA, September 2004.

THE CAPTIVE DeMille 1915

   A Balkan drama about a Montenegrin/Turkish conflict and its unforeseen (well, meant to be unforeseen) consequences when the captured Turkish bey played by House Peters is given to Blanche Sweet to help her work her farm after the death of her older brother in the war.

   The writer of the program notes (Bob Birchard, one of the organizers of the convention and author of a recent book on DeMille) states that the film seems to have been “designed to take advantage of the costumes already used for The Unafraid,” another Balkan drama filmed in the same year.

   An irreverent (if somewhat amusing) comment that doesn’t really prepare the viewer for a nicely developed romantic drama that brings together an unlikely couple and makes their eventual reconciliation believable.

   Peters plays the role with a light touch that makes his character appealing and contrasts with the more intense performance of the attractive Sweet. Not major DeMille, perhaps, but an intelligent, hopeful handling of cross-cultural antagonisms that demonstrates that ancient enmities need not endure.


KAZUO ISHIGURO – When We Were Orphans. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover; first edition, September 2000. Trade paperback: Vintage, October 2001. British edition: Faber & Faber, hc, 2000.

KAZUO ISHIGURO When We Were Orphans

    When We Were Orphans is a novel about a detective, but not a detective novel. Christopher Banks was born in Shanghai, his parents disappeared when he was only nine, and he was sent to live in England by his Uncle Philip.

    Leaving public school, he set his mind on the curious career of amateur sleuth, one he soon accomplished brilliantly. He became a famous figure in London with an international reputation despite his youth.

   But a quite simple case introduces him to Sarah Hemmings, and it is she who draws him back to Shanghai, a city quite different from that of his childhood as the Sino-Japanese War is now raging and threatens to engulf the whole world in its brutality and madness.

   Shanghai on the eve of World War II is no place to pursue a budding romance, and it is a world both too real and too brutal for professions such as Christopher Banks, much to real for a young man who determines to uncover the mystery of his own past and finds that the one thing he cannot do is escape his own preconceptions, his own childhood memories, and the complexity of truth, guilt, and even innocence, including the secret of a Chinese warlord Wu Kang, the shadowy criminal known as the Yellow Snake, and the loss of his parents.

   He must also face the loss of Sarah and a shocking betrayal hidden from him by his own childhood illusions.

KAZUO ISHIGURO When We Were Orphans

    …our fate is to face the world as orphans, chasing through the long years the shadows of lost parents. There is nothing for it but to try and see though all our missions to the end, as best we can, for until we do so, we will be permitted no calm.

   Ultimately Christopher solves his greatest case, but as in life such solutions are not always satisfying, and sometimes the only thing to do is to keep on. Christopher is ultimately a figure both tragic and successful. He solves his mysteries, but he cannot change who he is.

   Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan, and came to England as a youth. His brilliant novels have earned him a Booker Prize and the title of Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from France. His best known book, Remains of the Day, was made into a major film with Anthony Hopkins. Since When We Were Orphans he has also written Never Let Me Go, a major novel and an important literary work that uses elements of both science fiction and horror. He is a writer who bears watching.

   When We Were Orphans is a major novel. It is also a compulsively readable one, but it should not be mistaken for a detective story, at least not one where the question of who-dunit bears much of the weight of the story.

   As in real life, solutions to mysteries don’t always bring satisfaction, and there are mysteries that cannot be solved by deductive reasoning or without the risk of a wounded heart.

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